Week 24

Putin finished typing his report and sighed. In his whole department there was only one computer, and today was not his turn to use it.

He took the paper from the machine and reread what he’d written—the same six sentences he’d said to the Commander earlier in the day.

He saw no reason to waste time embellishing such transparent lies. Surely the Commander knew he’d been inside Chernobyl.

The Commander must know many things—where Putin came from, why he was installed at the KGB, what had happened in the White Room …

He’d spent the day going through the department’s files, looking for answers, but found many folders had gone “missing.” It was frustrating.

Putin climbed the stairs to the ninth floor, walked into the Commander’s empty office without knocking, and tossed his report onto the desk.

Exiting the building a few minutes later, he saw Zangief staring at him from across the lobby. He glowed brighter, just to mess with him.

Putin’s mind was far away as he walked to his apartment block, and he arrived before he knew it. “Home,” he thought bitterly.

He opened the door to the flat and turned his head away in disgust from an appalling smell drifting down the hall from the kitchen.

“Oh, Pootie, you’re home early!” Mila cried. “It’s not ready yet!” She bustled about, adjusting a large platter on the candle-lit table.

“What is it?” Putin asked, staring in dismay at a large, striated block of … food. “It’s your favorite—selyodka pod shuboy!” Mila trilled.

“My favorite? I don’t even like selyodka pod shuboy,” Putin frowned. Mila looked confused. “But … but you told me …”

But perhaps it had not been Putin who enjoyed the traditional “herring under a fur coat”—perhaps it had been the Commander.

Desperate to cover her faux pas, Mila burst into tears. “I just wanted to have a beautiful dinner to celebrate your homecoming!” she wailed.

“Oh, stop it,” Putin snapped. Mila stopped abruptly. Mr. and Mrs. Putin stood staring at each other across the dining table.

Putin picked up the vodka bottle and headed for the living room. “Bring some glasses,” he said. “We have to talk.”

They settled themselves on the sofa and Putin poured them each a drink. “Mila,” he began, “we both know we are not in love.”

“Do not deny it,” he said sternly, as she began to protest. “Our marriage is one of mutual advantage, and I have no wish to end it.”

“I intend to go into politics, and it will be helpful for me to show myself as a stable family man.” “And for me?” Mila asked pointedly.

“You will continue to have a home, a position in society.” He stopped, as if that should be enough. She paused. “All right. I agree.”

“The fool! How he underestimates me!” Mila thought scornfully. They clinked glasses and drank to their new arrangement.